Episode 11: Recent Kindle Changes: A+ Pages and the Death of the MOBI Format

Amazon has recently made two big changes to their publishing systems, and both of these changes will have an impact on publishers of all sizes.

The first change is that Amazon now allows publishers using the Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) platform to set up A+ Content for their book product pages. The A+ program has historically only been available to companies who are signed up for the Brand Registry, so this change opens the door for many more A+ pages to be made. Joshua discusses the impact this change will have on discoverability and sales, as well as some of the limitations and gotchas that publishers should watch out for.

The second change is that Amazon no longer accepts ebooks in the Mobipocket format. The MOBI file type has been a fixture in Amazon’s ebook program since the Kindle was released in 2007. It is a compiled file format that acted as a container for the HTML and other code behind the scenes. Amazon will no longer accept MOBI files from any publishers, either for new books or for books that are being re-uploaded, and they are recommending that publishers send EPUB, Word documents, or KPF (Kindle Create) files. Joshua discusses these changes, including offering some practical suggestions for publishers who are trying to figure out what to do next.

I would love to learn more about this podcast’s audience, and make sure that I’m creating content that you like and talking about topics that you want to hear. So, I’ve created a short, four-question survey that I hope will help me learn more about you and get some ideas for what you want me to cover more in this podcast. You can access the survey by going to https://booksmartspodcast.com/survey, or just visiting the podcast website and clicking on the link in the navigation bar. Please take a few minutes and help me understand you better!

Transcript

On this week’s episode of the BookSmarts Podcast, I want to talk about some recent changes that have come to the Kindle platform. Those two changes are the addition of A+ pages to the KDP system, and the change where Amazon has moved away from the MOBI format, kind of the death of MOBI.

So let’s start off talking first of all, about A+ pages. For those of you who may not know, the A+ pages are these special content sections that you can add to a product page on Amazon. These pages used to be locked down to only those with special accounts. It was normally only available to Vendor Central, Advantage, and Seller Central users who have been approved as brand owners through the Amazon Brand Registry process. And then they also allowed some other brands who are part of special managed selling programs like Launch Pad and Amazon Exclusives to use them, too. A+ pages are actually pretty awesome, because they have a lot of great capabilities to help with your page conversions. And they’ve now opened this up to KDP users, publishers who are using the KDP platform (and authors, of course, as well). Publishers who are not using KDP will apparently still have the same requirement of being in the Brand Registry going forward, which is a really good idea, in my opinion, anyway. So if you’re using Advantage or Vendor Central, for your main connection with Amazon, I would recommend getting in the Brand Registry if you can anyway. But that’s a topic for another day. I’m happy to chat about that at some point in the future if you’d like.

So let’s talk more about A+ pages and what they are and how they work and what the benefits are, or potential benefits are, of having an A+ page. I think honestly that this change of A+ pages becoming available to KDP users means that it’s now going to become the default and expected design for Amazon product pages, not just the outlier. It’s going to drive more publishers into the Brand Registry as well, which again, could be a good thing.

Let’s talk about the impact on sales. Amazon says that A+ content helps increase the overall product sales of any product by 3%-10%, on average. Now, there’s no telling if that’s going to be the case with book content necessarily, I think there’s still a lot to be said for the actual content of the book. We work in a specific type of industry here. It’s not just you know, selling cables, and you know, computer parts, and things like that. There’s more to it in the book industry than just that. But I do think that the content will help sales in general, for books, in least in some ways.

A key differentiator here is that it’s not going to impact discoverability of books content, at least not on the Amazon store, the Amazon site. That’s still driven in the algorithm by the title, the author, the category, and the keywords that you provide, as well as some Amazon advertising you might do or other outside marketing you might use to bring in more people to your specific book page. I think the real key here with Amazon A+ content is that the changes are going to be mostly in the visual side, and that means in the conversion of people purchasing your book. The text on the pages is crawlable by Google and some people are saying that that’s going to be a big deal. So there’s some possibility that it can impact discoverability on Google. But I’m really just not convinced that that’s really that big of a deal. Google search is about a whole lot more than just the amount of text on a page. There’s things like links to the page, the popularity of the page, the newness of the content, there’s a lot of other variables that go into Google’s algorithm. So sure, it’s going to be included in that crawling, but I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I wouldn’t make that your emphasis when you’re thinking about why you should put an Amazon A+ content on your book. I think honestly, your book excerpt is just as important for that purpose, itself. So having more content is always good on your book pages and obviously on your own website as well, but that’s not really the key. The key to Amazon A+ content pages is not the discoverability it’s the conversions.

So conversion rates—obviously for those who don’t know, conversion is basically when someone comes to your product page, do they buy it? If they do, they convert to a purchaser not just a browser. So, many books on Amazon don’t have great conversion-inducing metadata. I think there’s a lot of need just for better quality data in general, as you probably know. But we have to have, I think, in the book industry a very heavy emphasis on this. We need to convince the browsing consumer that they really want to buy the book. The description and the cover are still the most important elements of that. If you think about those two pieces, they’re front and center, they’re the things that everybody sees, they impact the first impression that people have when they come to your book page. So there’s obviously still a lot of work that publishers can do on book descriptions, and even book covers to make those even more enjoyable, make them more—draw people in a little bit better.

But A+ content can also help in some ways, because it’s better content, it’s interesting content, and it’s available to the consumer who decides to scroll down. I think one of the key elements here too, is A+ content is not at the top of the page, you actually have to scroll down a significant amount of distance on the page to get to it. It’s like going down to the part of the page where—it is actually going to the part of the page where your reviews and author bio and other details are. So you have to get past all those other recommendations for other books. So I still think that there’s a little bit of a need here for publishers to focus on book descriptions and book cover images. And obviously, on the discoverability side of things, getting people to the page in the first place. Don’t let those fall away, because you’re focusing so much on A+ content. Conversion really is driven by visible data and things that draw in the potential consumer that draw them into the story or draw them into the idea that your book is the best book for them.

So let’s talk a little bit about A+ pages, and what you can do—some design considerations, some things to consider when you’re building out these pages. First of all, A+ pages are usually driven by visual design. There’s lots of different ways to take an A+ page and make it look really interesting for your type of content. If you have a heavily illustrated book, then you can take advantage of that and use images from the book or even other images that you created as part of your process that never made it into the book. You can take advantage of that of that content you have. If you don’t have a heavily illustrated book, then use some new images, create your own images that complement your content. There are lots of different pages designs. I would say, if you look at fiction and general nonfiction, those A+ pages are often a little bit more wordy. Some have blurbs and excerpts and quotes and author notes and other descriptive content. You might even see one that has, you know, just one banner image at the top and then a note from the author or some sort of excerpt or something else. You’ll see business books, a lot of times—I think a really good example of this is the StoryBrand book. Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller has a really interesting easy design here on their A+ content. it’s got a banner at the top of the page, and then some text for different bullet point kind of things on the page. And then a little about the author and then a couple of blurbs—four different blurbs from well known people who have reviewed the book. So, lots of options available to you to make your page look good and to help it compare to other books of the same kind. So, I would go and look at other books that have these kinds of things, these A+ pages and see what they’re doing and see how they might work, and then come up with the ideas based on that, especially books in the same category of your book.

When you’re designing the images for the pages, it’s not really necessary to spend a ton of time or money to create custom graphics, you can do this yourself. So even if you don’t have a big budget, or you’re working for a marketing team at a big publisher that you really don’t have a lot of a lot of money to put into it, but you want to make sure that you have this stuff there. Or maybe you’re an author, and you just don’t have any cash at all, and you really do need to save some money and make this work for you. You can take things like Canva, which is a really great free online design tool that’s really easy to use, and use that to design the necessary images very simply. So you don’t have to go really crazy. You just need to create something that makes sense, that looks good, and that will draw attention to the reader.

So let’s talk about some limitations, some things to consider. You’re not allowed to put pricing or promotional details in this A+ content. You can’t use language that talks about pricing or promotions like, you know, using words like “affordable” or “cheap” or “bonus” or “free.” You’re not allowed to use consumer reviews. You can use editorial reviews, and celebrity endorsements, maximum of four, but you can’t use just a consumer review—somebody wrote a really nice review on Amazon, you can’t just pull that down and use that. If you do use editorial reviews or endorsements, then they do have to be accompanied by the author, the date, the publication credit, if that’s applicable. And if you have awards or things like that, Amazon says that you really should only include things that have been awarded in the last two years. There’s other things about time sensitive details. You can’t put information about sales or about you know, “this is the latest book in whatever category” or whatever. You’re not allowed to talk about holidays and things like that. If you’re in the Kindle Unlimited program, you can’t mention Kindle Unlimited, you can’t discuss competing products, you can’t use outside links and point out to your website or other places, and you can’t include any personal contact information—you know, “contact me if you have questions” or anything like that.

And then another thing is, one of the design options you have on these pages is in addition to just images and text, you can actually do a comparison chart, if you want. You’ll see this pretty often, with different types of—you go and look at a bunch of vacuum cleaners on Amazon, you’ll have a comparison chart. The comparison charts you use have to only be comparing your book against other books in your account. You can’t compare your book to a competing book by somebody else in the marketplace.

So do I recommend it? Yeah, I totally recommend doing this. I highly recommend actually that publishers take advantage of the A+ pages. And there’s some things that actually make it a little bit easier for you. One thing is that you make the A+ page and then apply it to all of the formats of the book. So you don’t have to duplicate a lot of effort. If you’re selling print and ebook, you can just use the same up A+ page for those for both things. You can make these in multiple languages as well. So if you want to you can make available in Spanish or whatever for the Spanish market. But you’ll need to make sure that you do that appropriately. And it’s only going to be if the content is Spanish language as well. And another thing to remember about kind of a practicality is you can’t add these before the book is actually available. This is one of the things you have to do after the book is already available for pre-order or available for sale. So you can’t do it as part of your initial setup. Also, it can take up to eight business days for the pages to be approved and go live. And it may take longer if they see something that they don’t like and they push it back to you. So build that into your timeline. If you’re planning to do some sort of promotion, or early marketing or you’re doing NetGalley or something you want people to be looking at the product page, you might want to do this first and make sure that the A+ content is live to help the conversion rate once people get to your page on Amazon.

So again, I do recommend doing this if you can, if you’re using KDP, this is a really great feature, an option for you. If you’re using Vendor Central, Advantage, or Seller Central for your main contact with Amazon, then again, you may have to go through the Brand Registry process and use that in order to get access to this, but it’s a great option for you if you if you like that idea.

Okay, so let’s move on to the death of MOBI. This is another thing that’s kind of interesting about how Amazon has been changing things. As of August 1 (2021), Amazon stopped supporting the submission of Mobipocket files for their ebooks. Now, for those of you who have known me for a long time, you know, I’m a Kindle nerd, I kind of got my start, after being an ebook developer for about five years, I kind of got well known as being the Kindle guy because I wrote a book about it, and I knew a lot about the Kindle format back in the early days. The MOBI format has been around forever. It’s the format that Amazon purchased from the Mobipocket company, basically, they bought out this company in France. I won’t go into all the history, but basically, this is the kind of the baseline format that Amazon had for many, many years. They did upgrade the format to Kindle Format 8 (KF8), a couple years back, and so that made a big difference. And it was actually 2011 when they did that upgrade. But the Mobipocket format has still been around for that whole time and even Kindle Format 8 had some great features and some better HTML and things like that, that was wrapped in the same Mobipocket actual file format, and that file format is what’s going away. The features and the capabilities that came with Kindle Format 8 are not going away. And I think they still actually call the format now Kindle Format 8, but they’re kind of getting rid of the wrapper that was a little more limiting to them.

So, this is actually really good for publishers, you know, you don’t have to create a separate Mobipocket file. You now just submit an EPUB file, or, if you want, a Word document (which I wouldn’t recommend), or a KPF format, which is the format that Amazon Kindle Create, their application that’s really intended for children’s books or really complex nonfiction, or comic books and things. So you can submit an EPUB or Word doc or KPF file, but you can’t submit a MOBI file. So essentially, the MOBI format is dead and the Kindle Format is alive and kicking.

So what does this really mean for you? First of all, any new books that you submit to Amazon can’t be in the MOBI format. And this applies to everybody, regardless of whether you’re doing it on KDP or doing it through Vendor Central or whatever else. Also, any old books that you have to go and update have to be uploaded in EPUB, as well. So, if Amazon kicks a book back and takes it off of sale, because they found some issue—which honestly is not uncommon for older titles, as well, especially as they go through and start doing like machine learning kind of stuff and trying to look at these files and see how good they are—then you may get a file that’s kicked back, or you may have to go and fix an issue in a book. When you do that, you have to resubmit it as an EPUB, you won’t be able to re-upload a MOBI file at that point.

This also means that really, the EPUB format is the most important format in the industry. And we’ve known that for a very long time. But it’s starting to become a little more realistic now that Amazon is starting to push people to use the EPUB format, instead of creating a separate Mobipocket file. For complex nonfiction, for children’s books, and comic books, though, you are probably going to want to use the Kindle Create format, the KPF format, because Amazon’s systems still benefit you if you use their own format. And this is why I would say that—why I don’t say that the Kindle Format is dead, the Kindle Format is alive and kicking. It’s just that the old Mobipocket wrapper essentially is dead now.

So also, just because the EPUB format is accepted doesn’t mean that you can just use a generic EPUB and always expect the same results. Amazon has its own EPUB specs and requirements. And you have to go and look those up in the Kindle Publishing Guidelines, and pay attention to what they actually want. They also still support Amazon-specific CSS limitations and media queries. And if you use those, then you can actually benefit you know, your generic EPUB file by making those generic EPUBs look better on the Kindle platform specifically, overriding things that don’t work in Kindle and allowing things that that do work in Kindle. So I think there’s a lot of benefits in thinking about EPUB as the standard format, the generic format. But when it comes to Amazon, I think it’s still the case that there is some benefit to it publishers and authors in still thinking, well, Kindle format is still just a little bit different.

And that’s because Amazon still cares so much about the quality of what the consumer gets. This is why they have Kindle Enhanced Typesetting, which is really just adding a bunch of readability improvements to standard files. If you build a good quality EPUB, and, you know have all the EPUB built in a way that makes sense and isn’t kind of crazy with its design, then it should be able to work with the Enhanced Typesetting, as well. But you do have to test it in Kindle Previewer.

So again, I don’t think this means the Mobipocket format is dead necessarily. What it really means is that the MOBI format, the MOBI wrapper is dead, the Kindle Format is still around. Amazon has vested interest, a very vested interest, in managing and maintaining their own format for the purpose of ensuring the best reading experience for their readers. And that’s one of the most important reasons why the Kindle ecosystem has been so successful over the last 13 years.

So here’s my recommendations. If you’re thinking about, “What do I do about this? And how do I handle the creation of Kindle files going forward?” So, first and foremost, I would say you need to create the best EPUB file that you possibly can, regardless of what you’re going to do in the future, make the best EPUB file you can. So, test it in FlightDeck, which is the most powerful EPUB testing tool available and goes deeper than EpubCheck does alone. Second, I would say make sure that you include all of the recommended best practices: include things like page numbers; if you have an index, link the index; do all that extra work to make the EPUB file the best it can be, because that actually benefits you on Amazon, but also everywhere else where you sell your EPUB, and in the future will give your users, your readers, your consumers even a better experience regardless of where they’re reading it.

I would also say accessibility is very important for EPUB, not just for the normal reasons you would expect, but because accessibility best practices that you do in your EPUB file, lead to ebooks that are easier to design, they’re better at adapting to different reading systems and kind of the weirdness out there when it comes to what your book looks like on different systems, and they’re easier to fix when you have to go back and fix something. So if you take the time at the beginning to set up a process of building accessible EPUB files, that’ll make your job a lot easier down the road.

I would also recommend that you adapt your content to the needs of the ebook world: change the copyright page, format the book appropriately for smaller screens, be willing to give up some things in complex layout and design in order to get the book to work well and read be readable in the ebook format. And that may mean that you end up having to push some content out to your website, maybe some of those really large tables you have in that nonfiction book will—you know, they’re fine in the Kindle format, or on a phone or whatever, but it really would make more sense sometimes to put them—make them available on your website and point out to your website and tell tell readers, hey, if you want to see this in a view that makes more sense, that’s more engaged, go to our website. You can also take advantage of that traffic to help people learn more about you and the products that you sell, and even get information that’s up to date. So especially for nonfiction titles, having a book website where you can point people to new information, new research, new ideas, new books by the same author, things like that can be really helpful, as well.

I would also recommend that you not use fixed layout unless you absolutely have to. If you’re thinking about EPUB, and you’re thinking about building out this ebook file, if you have a complex nonfiction title, instead of defaulting to the idea of doing fixed layout, I would recommend instead, try to figure out how to make it reflowable, how to make that file, make that content work for an ebook device for ebook readers—not just Amazon, but everybody. Try to make it work well as a reflowable book, if you can.

And then for Amazon, for testing and things like that for Amazon—at a bare minimum, you really should be testing your EPUB files in the Kindle Previewer program. Be sure to let it update if you haven’t used it in a while. You open up the Kindle Previewer, let it be open for a few minutes and then try to close it, and it’ll tell you if it needs to update, and you should install that update before you do testing. And when you’re in the Kindle Previewer app, and you’re doing your testing and looking at things to make sure it looks okay, look for that Enhanced Typesetting checkmark over on the left-hand side and make sure that it’s on, and if it’s not, you probably have too much complex formatting, something’s going on in your file that causes Enhanced Typesetting to not be available. And if that’s the case, you might have a problem actually with that book that you need to go and fix.

If you do have complex content, especially if you’re building children’s books or comic books, then I would consider using Kindle Create. You have to use a Word document or a PDF as your baseline import format, which is really annoying. But depending on what you’re creating, it’s maybe not that big of a deal, especially if it’s a PDF or a comic book or something. I don’t recommend this for nonfiction unless you have no other choice. Again, if you can try to make, instead of fixed layout, which is really what the Kindle Create format’s best at, I would recommend trying to do reflowable instead of you can—although you can create reflowable books in that Kindle Create tool as well, so maybe that’s a great way to go about building that reflowable nonfiction if you need to.

And then lastly, I would say just be on the lookout for potential issues with your books. A bad reading experience can hurt your sales and can cost you sales across any platform. And can even cause the ebook to be taken down by Amazon, as many of you know. So just be aware that there are lots of benefits to you building out really, really high-quality ebooks and, and making sure that everything looks good across the board.

So MOBI is dead, long live the Kindle Format. I think there’s a lot of things that Amazon will continue doing in the future, and I hope to talk about those things as they happen. So that’s, that’s kind of my overview of those two things.

You know, one of the things that—before we close out here, I would like to, I would like to get to know my audience better. If you listen to this podcast, there’s obviously a lot of topics we’ve talked about over the last couple of months. And I’d like to make sure that I’m creating content that you like and talking about topics that you want to hear about. So, I’ve created a short, four-question survey that I hope will help me learn more about you and get some ideas for what you want me to cover more in this podcast. You can access the survey by going to https://booksmartspodcast.com/survey, or just visiting the podcast website and clicking on the link in the navigation bar. So if you have just a couple of minutes—it doesn’t take long—take a few minutes for me and fill that out. It’ll help me tremendously and it’ll help me understand you guys better so that I can match the content to what you’re trying to learn about.

So that’s it for this episode of the BookSmarts Podcast. If you like what you’ve heard, then please leave a review or rating on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, or wherever you listen to this podcast. Also, please share this podcast with your colleagues. Let them know that there’s a book podcast out there that they should be listening to. If you have topic suggestions or feedback about the show, you can email me at joshua@firebrandtech.com. Again, be sure to fill out that listener survey at https://booksmartspodcast.com/survey. Thanks for joining me and for getting smarter about your books.

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